Life’s situation is relative. A person may have wealth and adulation, looks and talent, may yet be miserable within because of a screwed-up chemical process in their make-up.
Consider celebrity people like authors Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemmingway, and lately, Hong Kong entertainer Leslie Cheung. They all became despressed from the misfiring of electro-chemicals in their brains. Virginia Woolf drowned herself, Hemmingway who loved shooting wildlife, blew his own brain, and Leslie jumped from a tall building.
As a kid, I lived in a one-room apartment with nine other people – my parents, six sisters and a brother. I used to dream of bungalows with spacious rooms and gardens and wake up miserable when I looked at my surroundings.
Today, I lived with a wife and son and a cat, in a flat with three large airconditioned bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a balcony, a kitchen and a store room. Compared with my former living space, I should be contented. I’ve so much space that I converted one bedroom into a library stocked with good books. The apartment block is in a traffic-quiet, tree-shaded, clean neighbourhood. What more do I want?
For starters, I want a large park within sight where I can take a stroll or do some running. I want a swimming pool at the foot of the apartment block. I want a subway station just a minute’s walk away.
And when I read those illustrated Arabian Nights books and dream of lush gardens with scented flowers, melodious birds, translucent fountains and female slaves burdened by heavy breasts, I feel sweaty, unhappy and deprived. I want to live like a decadent sultan in a secret garden hemmed by a harem of warm, willing bodies.
There is no end to whatever I think I want, because like most self-centred, care-less individuals, I feel I deserve a bit more than the current quota of creature comfort that I am enjoying. But if every consumer gets what they hanker after, the world would become one sand dune in this generation.
In Singapore, most adults yearn for the five Cs of the good life – creature comfort, condos, cash, car, and, for the men, a variety of chicks (available for a handful of dollars in neighbouring Indonesian islands). For the women, I suppose it would be Viagra-hardened cocks (just to keep our discussion to Cs). And of course when death comes – always at the most inconvenient time – we Singaporeans want to have one last C, a high-class “columbarium” to store our ashes.
The Cs won’t ensure happiness but they at least make it easier to pass time while we wait for happiness and fulfilment to come by.
But while waiting for happiness, circumstances change. Recession and a pandemic virus arrive, instead. The good-paying job is eliminated. Debts mount, creditors call, friends disappear. The car is re-possessed and the spacious flat is sold by the bank at a fraction of its original price.
According to newspaper reports (June 2003), nearly 90,000 working adults in once-prosperous Singapore are jobless, cashless and, often, house-less. This is only the official figure – the true sorry numbers could be twice as many when we count in those who have given up searching for work and those who are simply unemployable because of age or wrong skills. It is a large figure in an island of 600 sq km.
Cash may not buy meaningful happiness but the lack of cash definitely brings a mule load of misery. My father often said: Without cash, everything is hypothetical.
– Francis Chin, September 7, 2004
PS: One billion Chinese today want the kind of material comforts that 200 million Americans and 2 million Singaporeans are enjoying, and so the Chinese are fouling their own country and environment, to get these comforts. In South America, they are felling forests to grow soya crops to feed the billion Chinese.